by Jeffrey Hunt
Both the House and the Senate bill make marginal changes to the Forestry section of the Farm Bill. Although the bill hasn’t been official scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it is not expected to increase spending or add to the deficit.
Wildfires are a focus of this Farm Bill. One mitigation effort is the authorization of excess funds to be given to cross-boundary wildfire fighting, meaning state foresters can be federally funded to combat wildfires in nearby states. Additionally, there will be federally funded cross-boundary hazardous fuel projects, which are a part of the $660 million appropriated over the next five years to reduce use of hazardous fuels.
The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program is funded at $80 million for each fiscal year and now requires reporting to the House and Senate Agricultural Committees. Likewise, the Semiarid Agroforestry Research Center, the Rural Revitalization Technologies Program, and the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act are extended through 2023.
There are several new small-scale programs in the Farm Bill. “One is the Community Wood Energy and Wood Innovation Program” that seeks to develop methods to reduce the environmental footprint of innovative wood products used in construction, like cross-laminated timber, nail laminated timber, glue laminated timber, laminated strand lumber, and laminated veneer lumber, or seeks to develop a ‘community wood energy system’, which is a thermal energy system serving the public based on wood biomass. Another is a competitive grant program to encourage collaborative science-based restoration of priority landscapes, funded at $20 million per year through 2023, along with a grants for forest restoration prioritizing applicants with specific research projects. Additionally, the Secretary is to establish a voluntary pilot program concerning vegetation management projects on Forest Service land. A final new program is the Water Source Protection Program, authorized at $10 million annually to carry forest restoration programs at watershed levels on National Forest System (NFS) land.
Several small forestry programs were repealed in the 2018 Farm Bill. The wood fiber recycling research program, the forestry student grant program, the study on reforestation and improved management in the Global Climate Change Prevention Act of 1990, the Biomass Commercial Utilization Grant Program, and the strategic plan for forest inventory and analysis are all repealed.
Note that the prior versions of the House and Senate bills contained a wide range of Categorical Exclusions (CEs) in which certain projects were exempt from environmental impact reviews. This was especially pervasive in the House bill, but the large majority of the CEs from both the House and Senate bills did not make it to the final version of the Farm Bill. There is a new CE for the greater sage-grouse and mule deer habitats, in which projects promoting those wildlife with a max acreage of 3,000 acres can take advantage of the CE.